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Walter Zschokke

A Few Thoughts on the Work of Silvia Grossmann

Silvia Grossmann’s structures, which are made up of wire, paper and photocopies, demand that the viewer approach them discreetly. They exude a pale tenderness, the light sometimes shimmering opaquely through them, while at other times one can see right through and between separated surfaces. Their fragile nature signalises to us that we should “look with our eyes,” as our parents often warned us on visits to the art gallery. Upon the first glance her works demand of us that we stop and more finely adjust our perception. The replication process- if one can call it such, for there is no strict adherence to it- commences with a wealth of images of the big city of which a selection has been captured by the artist with a camera. Following this, there has been a process of sorting, dissecting and rejoining the images anew thereby creating rows and repetitions of individual aspects. Our visual expectations are destabilised by excerpts of building façades pivoted by 90 or 180 degrees. Top is swapped with bottom or the base becomes the side so that it is often necessary to look two or three times in order to obtain objective clarity.

This method of construction creates an alienated view of what we thought to be familiar. The images of Vienna’s late 19th century façades, the street-fronts and courtyards of which reveal significant variation, are roused into movement as they fan out and replicate themselves or deteriorate into individual elements, which, when differently arranged, are transformed into something new.

The reproduction process chosen for these blown-up photographs is the photocopy, an everyday, inexpensive, even cheap procedure. However, the effect is grainier, with stronger contrasts than “conventional” photography and the statement it makes is therefore more distinct. Yet at the same time, the product could be somehow called sooty, almost grubby, in the way the shadow absorbs the detail. This everyday replication process does not give rise to a superfluous aura, one is reminded more of courtyards and buildings that have not undergone any major repair-work for a long period of time. These objects do not reveal their everyday usage and history in a melancholy light, rather they provide an austere source of material, the basis for new, autonomous structures. They appear at times like free associations in their overall character: “Wing,” “Ship,” “Dancer”; or they are transformed into supposed buildings (Phoenix Court I and II), consisting of superpositioned sections of building. Through these repetitions, they wind their way upward in a very un-Viennese fashion. Emerging out of a flat surface, the images undergo a transformation in space, whether because of the effect of the perspective created by the wire frame, or the excision of certain surfaces, or perhaps the creation of a central component with wings through which the confined space of an atrium or the gravitation of the centre of a stairwell expresses itself. Launching itself from reality, the concept springs into an unreal world. The isolated integration of spiralling stairs into a fragile, quivering structure reminds one Barbara Neuwirth’s treatment of the intimidating nature of stairs in her narrative, “Columbine.” The opened-out forms in photo negatives assume their own formal significance and are condensed into portions of sky appearing between blocks of courtyards huddled together. Tilted figures defined by images, shapes and secondary symmetries emerge, their expression constantly changing each time the viewer feels that he or she has come to grips with them. It is not merely the delicate impression created by them, but also their ever-changing intonation, which makes the objects scarcely graspable, somehow transient and endangered, much like meadow saffron in the face of winter. However, the object’s fragility should be seen more as a strategy urging the viewer into a state of heedfulness thus establishing the object as an artefact and ensuring its place in the viewer’s memory.


Vienna, August 1999


Walter Zschokke



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